One of my favorite things I do is that I get to lead the music at my church. It is something that I have done off and on all of my life. I enjoy it and am passionate about leading music in a way that makes all people feel welcome and like they have a way to be involved, rather than just being a spectator at an event. I also have a bachelor’s degree in theology and am near the end of my Master’s in Divinity, so it’s no surprise that my mind is often asking and analyzing questions of the Church and its mission, its effectiveness within itself, and its impact on society or the world at large – specifically, these things in relation to churches in the nation where I live, the United States.
A major thought that has been weighing on my mind about the Church in America is, “Are we on mission?” Let me backtrack a little and give some context for my readers outside of the U.S.
The last few years in America have seen quite a bit of upheaval. COVID-19 and its politicization, racial tensions, perceived culture wars, and an extremely divisive political climate became the main points of contention from 2020 to today… often erupting in violence on both sides. It seems as if the angriest voices on every side of any debate are the only ones who are being heard and promoted, while those seeking reason are silenced. Truth has no meaning, because talking points and political alliances have become the standard for what is true. Dissent is dismissed as a lie or “fake news.”
There are countless ways for the church to be distracted from its mission, if it so chooses. We have seen a blatant turn toward politics impacting the church more than the church impacting the world. Our nation’s divisive political climate has confused many churches into taking a stand for a liberal or conservative side, rather than taking a stand for our faith. Because of this, the much talked about decline of the American church has been hastened, as many people no longer feel they have a place in a politicized church. Rather than being the peacemakers Jesus called us to be, we often expand the division in our culture. Sadly, much of the American church has chosen to pour time, energy, and resources into the legal status of matters of conscience, while ignoring matters of faith.
It makes sense, because Americans hate gray areas. We are scared by uncertainty. We prefer a right or wrong mentality, and we like our views neatly packaged and easy to quote in talking points. There are two problem with this for Christians:
1. As Christians, we claim a faith that does not fully align with political parties or national interest. When in conflict, our faith should override our political or national allegiance. Otherwise, we are not really adhering to our faith in action, only in words.
2. Christianity has many, many gray areas. It favors people above policies. We are prohibited from imposing matters of conviction on others (Rom 14:1-12).
The Church’s mission is about people, not blanket policies. We know this, because we can read in Acts about the struggle of the Apostles to understand how to reconcile the Gospel with their own heritage and culture. We see Paul doing the same in his own writings.
My question for ourselves and for the Church is: “Are we doing the same?” Are we seeking to understand what adherence to the greatest two commands – (1) Love God and (also 1) Love others” (Mk 12:30-31) – looks like in our current culture, or are we just too distracted by the sides that have been offered to us by those in political power?
The individualist mindset of our culture likes to rally behind someone who we feel is “taking a stand.” So, what does it look like to really take a stand for our faith in our current cultural climate? One of the pastors at my church, St. Andrew’s, gave an excellent summary that caught my attention this past Sunday:
“The message [throughout scripture] to us about the marginalized in our society… Whoever is being marginalized, we are told [in Scripture] that that they are our responsibility, we are called to care for them, because God cares about those who we [our society] often do not care about.” – Pastor Jayne Rideout
The standard Jesus put in place against which every single action we take or word we say as an individual or as a church community should align is this: Does this express love for God and for all people?
Are we allowing ourselves to become too distracted with all of the political manipulations and divisiveness being thrown at us to really fulfill our responsibility to the marginalized in our society?
I believe the key to seeing a resurgence/revival in the Church in America is to remove distractions and get focused on this mission. When we are really able to break through the distractions and stay focused on living out the selfless love for others that our faith proclaims, then our communities will see the contrast with the selfishness of the world and be drawn to – or drawn back to – faith. When this begins to happen in the American Church, I believe the decline will end.